"God's Man,"

Carrying the Gospel to "Alayaska," the "Great Country," by Mrs. C. K. Malmin

--Prepared for the 50th Anniversary of Mission Work in Alaska--

Chapter 3

We were enjoying this interlude, but at the same time there was a feeling of increasing urgency to get on to Mary's Igloo. Almost a week passed before word came from Teller that the boat was leaving the next day. Rev. Fosso, who was an experienced carpenter, was to be in charge of the building project. So we packed our bags, and with the help of Suluguak and Sigwana, two of the Mission boys, we left in the dory for Teller.

Five dogs were hitched to the tow line, and they pulled five miles along the beach to the channel, a narrow strip of choppy water, the entrance to Grantley Harbor. Here the dogs were tied and we rowed across to Teller.

The "Kotzebue," a stern-wheeler, was moored at the dock. Alongside lay the loaded barge. We waved goodbye to the native boys who were pushing off again in the dory and sent a last greeting back to the Mission. We were leaving on the last lap of our long journey.

The trip inland to Mary's Igloo was an uforgettable experience. We left Grantley Harbor and entered the Tuxuk, a winding, deep fjord that linked Great Salt Lake with the sea. It was thirty miles to the mouth of the Ageopak river. We followed this winding water course to Davidson's Landing, and on through Kotzebue Slough, and into the Kuzitrin River.

Occasionally there was a native camp. We saw fish drying on racks. We could smell the smoke from their campfires. Graceful whaling boats, with sails lashed to the masts, lay securely tied at the river's edge. The friendly Eskinos waved a greeting as we passed. They were Igloo natives, and they knew it was their missionary who was coming. "A-yang-e-lokh-tokh--Ko-yanah!" (God's Man, Thank you.).

To our right, as we traveled eastward, loomed the rugged Sawtooth Range that was to become such a well loved part of the Alaskan scenery.

Alder and willow grew in abundance along the river banks. Ducks and geese and other waterflowl fed in the shallow water. An occasional covey of ptarmigan, feeding in the blueberry thickets, would whirr away at our approach.

At last, late in the afternoon, we came to Mary's Mountain. A little way up the hillside we saw a cluster of white crosses. And then a bend in the river, hid them from our view. Beyond lay the village. We reached home.

Rather than hearing about busy days of building the mission and all the work that was done before we could move in, it seems to me that you would like to hear about the Eskimos that lived at Mary's Igloo.

There was Oquillok and his young son Opollok, who had come from Pt. Hope to learn from Pastor Brevig more about the Christ that a Christian had told him about.

And of course you must hear about his wife Mary. It was in her Igloo that the miners found shelter on their way to the mining country farther north. It was such a pleasure to talk to her. She would always bring her Bible. Before she left she would ask a little shyly, "Will you please read something?"

And of course that was what we were there for. I had never had a neighbor more thoughtful than Mary. Her life was a daily testimony to her faith. All the native were extremely friendly, and they were so thankful for the new church. They had worshipped in a sod igloo that they had built and consecrated, but this was so much better. It was a real inspiration to see the chapel filled every Sunday, when every man, woman and child dressed in their best parkas gathered for worship.

Then came the year 1918. In April we heard that the Mission at Teller had burned. Practically everything was lost. The missionaries and the four native children had to find shelter in the old government buildings. Friends at Teller made it possible to set up temporary house-keeping. The mission was rebuilt that summer, but they had no more than settled for the winter, when the flu epidemic came.

The whole village was stricken. Rev. Fosso and Miss Enestvedt were desperately ill. Only Mrs. Fosso and little three-months-old Paul escaped. She nursed the sick, laid away the dead, and fed those who could eat. She risked attack from half-starved malamutes to get ice for water. She tried to visit the natives who were ill, and bring help to them.

As many as she could find room for, she brought into the mission. Many died there. But her courage never failed for she had learned to rely on her heavenly Father for strength.

She carried on, from day to day--forgetting herself in her struggle against terrific odds, until one day she realized that her baby was fretting because he was so hungry. She had been too busy to eat. At last the sick ones recovered. There were six native adults left, and 34 children. Over a hundred were dead.

The missionaries slowly regained their strength as the long dreary winter dragged on. The following summer Miss Enestvedt was glad to be relieved, for she was completely spent. The Fossos stayed on to complete their three year term and then left, in the summer of 1920, with Leonard Suluguak, who was to study at Red Wing Seminary, to prepare himself to become a native evangelist.

At Mary's Igloo forty of our natives died. We were daily exposed to the contagion, but we were spared. Instead a little daughter arrived to gladden our home. She was baptized and was named Solveig Corinne. The natives called her "Kaumarikh,"--Sunshine.

I would like to tell you of the simple, child-like faith that was so evident in the Eskimos. They believed that prayers would be heard and answered.

Topcokh and his wife were the only flu survivors at No. 1 Reindeer Camp. They were ill and thought it only a matter of time until they too would die. But first they must see the Missionary.

Twenty miles asway was Igloo and the going was rough. Yet they stumbled along, falling from weakness, sometimes fainting away. But always one would pray for the other and after a long bitter trek they stumbled into the village. Just the day before, the missionary had been told that all was well at No. 1 herd.

Topcokh and his wife asked to be given the Lord's supper, and then they lay down to die. But the Lord willed otherwise. They lived to praise Him for His Providence and mercy. Many an incident could be told of the spiritual growth of these simple primitive people. Their eagerness to hear God's word brought joy to the hearts of the missionaries.


Note: While Ronald Ginther attended Augustana Academy, Canton, SD in 1957-1960, two Eskimo boys were there as students too, coming from Shishmaref, Alaska. Their names are John Kiyutelluk and Clifford Weyiouanna (John on L, Clifford on R). Shismaref is a small village to this day on the northwest coast (see the cross in the graphic at the top of this page, where Shishmaref is located on the far left, right below the crossbeam) where there was a mission by these missionaries for many years. This village was lately featured in the news as one of the villages of Alaska on the coast that is facing the need to move, due to rising seas on that coast, or a gradual subsidence of that very low coastline (it is not clear just what is causing the rising waters, which are slowly engulfing the swampy coastline on which the village is located). The Eskimo students showed Ronald Ginther the exquisite walrus tusk ivory they used for carving. One of their carvings was a cross. They carved ivory in order to help pay their expenses at the Academy, and they did beautiful work even in their teens.

"God's Man," Alaskan Missions, Chapter 4 by Mrs. C. K. Malmin, missionary to Alaska

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